Strings Attached

The note on the outside of the envelope informed anyone who cared to pay attention that, “Tampering is prohibited, under penalty of Federal Law.” I looked at the advertising piece, definitely not something I had requested, and started to toss it away without even giving it a perfunctory perusal. Hesitating, I considered the blurb promising severe penalties ranging from a huge fine to ten years in jail and decided that perhaps I should see what was contained in this piece of mail that these folks were so intent on protecting.

Interesting. The instructions for opening the mail piece appeared to the same as many checks which I have received from various sources. “Tear along each side. Then remove the top tab.” The corners of my mouth twitch as I am taken (momentarily) back to my childhood and once again am hearing the voice of Mr. Olsen telling of the two ants running at breakneck speed along the top of the cracker package. As the story-teller begins to giggle, he informs us that one of the ants asks the other why they are hurrying so and the breathless reply comes, “Well, it says to tear along the dotted line!” As I return to the here-and-now, I suppress a little giggle myself and check to be sure there are no ants on the envelope before following the directions. In no time at all, I am reading the words that tell me that, due to my diligence in keeping my nose clean, I have been approved to receive a small business loan of up to two hundred thousand dollars! I was nearly successful with the giggle, but couldn’t suppress the guffaw that escaped my open mouth at reading this.

Again my hand made a motion toward the circular file nearby and again, something stopped me. I lifted the page which explained the stellar reputation my business has earned that made me eligible for such an offer. Under the first page, as if to give a pledge of good faith, I saw it–a check for forty-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-five dollars! It appeared to be a legal tender check, right down to the endorsement section on the back. I could take this check to the bank! Nearly fifty thousand dollars could be mine today! With just a stroke of the pen (and believe you me, that’s how my messy signature would appear to your eyes), I could have all that money in my bank account, ready to use for whatever purpose I desired!

You do know, of course, what I promptly did with the check, do you not? Yes, that’s exactly what I did. I tore it into little bits and dropped it into the trash can. It is virtually the same thing I did with the perky young thing who called me the other day offering an “extremely low-interest loan”. I returned a polite “no thank you”, but she insisted on asking how I could refuse such a good deal. I asked the young lady if they would expect me to pay the money back. She replied that they would indeed. As I hung up, I told her that I had no intention of paying back such a loan and consequently would not be accepting her kind offer. With the click of the phone, the tatters of her sales pitch floated into the imaginary trash can, much as the very real ones had done in front of me as I tore up the check..

Pay the piper. Strings attached. Quid pro quo. These are all terms we use that indicate an obligation incurred because of something received. The offer of easy money is always followed by the demand for hard payment. All too often, I have fallen for the gimmick instantly, only to repent over time. It is likely that you are nodding your head contemplatively, as you read this. You too, have succumbed to the siren call of easy credit, of fast cash, or of instant gratification. The problem with all of them is that the day comes when the piper who played the beautiful music that lulled you into acquiescence demands to be paid for the dance.

In this season of political rhetoric, I know that some could wish that I would draw the parallels to our government (and there are parallels), but for tonight, I have loftier goals.

I want to draw your attention to an anomaly in the law of quid pro quo (literally, “this for that”). I want to remind you of the one Piper who has no demands to make for the dance. To my knowledge, only once in human history has such an offer been made (and meant). The music of Grace is sweet and beautiful. It calls to us with no strings attached, no demand of payment to be made at a future date. There is a price for this music, terribly high, but it was paid long ago, by the very One who now plays the tune for us.

Many will refuse to dance, entranced by the music to which they are already marching, all the while knowing that one day they will be dunned for the pleasure at a cost far beyond what they can afford. Once in awhile, they listen momentarily to the Piper’s music, acknowledging its beauty but, believing that the cost is more than they can pay, they march on. The day of reckoning will be a sad one, but make no mistake; it will come.

As we walk through life, I trust that you will have the wisdom to avoid the pitfalls of shady offers and easy money. How much simpler it is to toss the worthless paper into the trash now than it would be to obligate yourself for years to come.

But, when it comes to the choice of marching to the drum beat of the world’s taskmasters, or dancing to the music of Grace…

I hope you’ll dance.

“Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance.
And when you get the choice to sit it out, or dance
I hope you dance.
I hope you dance.”
(“I Hope You Dance”~American Country song written by Mark Sanders & Tia Sillers)

“Ho! every one that is thirsty in spirit,
Ho! every one that is weary and sad;
Come to the fountain, there’s fullness in Jesus,
All that you’re longing for: come and be glad!”

(Lucy J Meyer~American educator/songwriter~1849-1922)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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